This post is part of Blog Action Day, 9080 blogs and counting, all writing about climate change on the same day.
In the first student lobby meeting I ever organized with a US Senator’s office, one of the girls who was coming along asked me whether the lobby meeting really mattered or made a difference. I knew her from my running club, so I tried to tie my answer into something we both could relate to and understand.
I’ve been a runner since I was 14. One of the things I do in my spare time is train for long distance races, my favorite of which is the marathon. In the last three years, I’ve traversed the 26.2 mile distance 4 times. Training for and running a marathon to me is in many ways a lot like climate activism. It’s a pretty lengthy process just to get to the starting line, let alone running the race in the time you want. I typically begin training for a marathon 4-5 months out from the race, nowhere near in the shape I need to be in on race day to be successful. Many times, you feel like you’re working hard and beating yourself up, but you aren’t actually making any progress. I’ve learned the only way to stay motivated to be in shape for the race is to take it one day, one run, and one mile at a time. I just try and make sure that every day I’m supposed to do a particular run at a particular speed or distance, I do it no matter what. Some days where the fatigue of training is building up and it’s hard to do the runs, I have to take it one step at a time and just keep moving my feet forward. I think this mentality helps me on race day. Instead of panicking about the fact that I have to go from 0 to 26.2 miles in just a few hours, I take the race one mile at a time, just trying to be consistent and stay on pace. In the later stages of the race when everything is hurting and it’s hard to will myself forward, I literally need to take it one step at a time.
The road to a clean energy future, to environmental justice, to preventing catastrophic global warming, is a REALLY long race. Even more challenging is that the only thing really in control is our own actions, when to be successful we need collective action. In order to prevent ourselves from going completely out of our minds and becoming immobilized by the giant task before us, we need to start taking it one day, one lobby meeting, one phone call, one LTE at a time. It’s really hard when there’s so much to do and so little time to do it.
I recognized then, as I do now that one lobby meeting with our Senator’s office wasn’t going to save the planet. It wasn’t going to mean there would be US climate legislation that set strong short term emissions targets. It didn’t mean he would be convinced to take our positions on the issue. Hell, he might not even know we were there.
But I knew it was going to add up. That other groups around the state were going to do lobby meetings too. We were all doing rallies, petitions, phone calls, letters. I knew groups in every state, and in every district were doing the same, and they were counting on us to do our part. The United States wasn’t going to be ready to run the race after this one meeting, but it was another day building on another day, building on another day of putting in the work so we eventually could. If we let up, even for just one day, it could be the difference between success and failure. This lobby meeting could very well be the most important meeting in the world, even if we didn’t know it.
This is the approach I take. Nothing we do is insignificant. Doing nothing is. It’s why even though it wasn’t going to stop global warming, my parents and I replaced the light bulbs in our house with CFLs(the most stereotypical way of reducing your impact ever!). The energy bills dropped, and taking it a step further made sense. Little things like taking shorter showers and obsessively turning lights out when they didn’t need to be on. Bigger things too. They paid a little more for wind power from Clean Currents. A SUV was traded in for a Prius. A couple years later when my dad had the option of trading in his car at work, he replaced it with another Prius. In a few weeks, we’ll be having solar panels placed on our house, helped by all the tax credits, but driven by all the previous smaller changes that have paid off. When I move out, I’ll have to start ALL OVER AGAIN. *Sigh*
But no one day of action, climate legislation(strong or weak), or global climate treaty(good or bad) is going to mean the end of the world or the world saved. The whole world could commit to mandatory targets of 100% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. We’d still have to run the race, and hit the target.
These next couple months can definitely make a big difference though. The 350.org international day of action on October 24 has nearly 2500 actions registered around the world. This is huge, and that day is a key example of the point I’m making here. Collectively a ton of individual actions, some big, some small, are going to make October 24 the biggest climate action in global history, and 350 ppm the most universally known fact in the world.
The U.S. could pass climate legislation out of the Senate. I have some differences of opinion with others over the merits of passing legislation that isn’t going to solve the problem. I’m convinced though that if the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act moves us even one step, one inch in the right direction, we should fight like hell for that inch. Likewise, we should push as hard as possible to make the legislation as strong as it can possibly be, because moving two steps in the right direction is better than one.
Finally, the world needs to come together, and agree to a global climate treaty in Copenhagen this December. Regardless of the nature of the treaty, it isn’t going to stop catastrophic global warming. The world is going to be in just as much peril the day after Copenhagen ends as the day before it begins.
US climate legislation will bring the US to the starting line. Copenhagen will allow the world to begin the race. No matter what happens though, we’re going to have to fight, every year, every month, every week, and every day….for every inch…to win it.